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What is Labour Day about?

October 24, 2015

On Monday 26th October 2015, all our libraries will be closed for Labour Day. Most of us take his holiday for granted, but what’s it all about?

labour-dayBasically, Labour Day commemorates the struggle for an eight-hour working day in New Zealand.  We were one of the first countries in the world to establish an eight-hour day thanks to the efforts of carpenter Samuel Parnell who first won the right to an eight-hour day in 1840.

The first Labour Day was marked on 28 October 1890, by trade union members and some Government employees.  Although workers in some industries had long enjoyed an eight-hour day, it was not a legal entitlement. Other workers, including seamen, farm labourers, and hotel, restaurant and shop employees, still worked longer hours.

However, the Liberal Government made the day a public holiday with the Labour Day Act of 1899, and it was first celebrated by all workers in 1900. It was ‘Mondayised’ in 1910. By the 1920s, Labour Day was regarded as just another holiday, as the influence of the Liberals faded. (Some information sourced from a web feature written by Neill Atkinson and produced by the NZHistory.net.nz team)

New Zealanders continue to enjoy an eight-hour day in most cases, although many workers still put in longer hours.  Interestingly, Sweden has recently announced they will be moving to six-hour workdays on a trial basis.  The idea is that most employees can still achieve the same amount of work (and presumably therefore receive the same monetary reward) when they know the day is shorter so they will be more focused and take fewer breaks.  Read more

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